Earth Wars: links that need to be broken and those that need to be realized:
The Movement for the Abolition of War’s newsletter editor, Lesley Docksey, gave an address to the AGM of Quaker Concern for Animals at Friends’ House on May 8 2010.
This is the text, also available to hear on the site of London Quakers, thanks to our member Thom Bonneville. Please visit:
My first and over-riding love is not for humanity but for the earth, for life, for divine creation. Humanity is only one form of life, is the most damaging to other forms, and through sheer numbers, has now reached plague proportions.
Why the Movement for the Abolition of War?
MAW’s aim is to change people’s thinking about war, to challenge the prevailing belief that somehow war is always inevitable. Many other organisations work on such things as the arms trade, poverty, social justice – all of them part of the causes of war. But unless we can change the underlying belief that war is both inevitable and acceptable, humanity will go on finding reasons to resort to war.
As the editor of Abolish War, I try to provide as much information about the damage war causes as I can. As we need to reach people with military connections rather than just talk to ourselves, much of the information I provide is about the damage we do to our own when we go to war. The more facts people have, the easier it is for them to debate sympathetically with rather than simply confront the man in the street.
I personally have two distinct reasons for supporting MAW in its work:
~ the damage war does to the earth
~ the illegality of war
Where humanity is concerned, the damage and the illegality go hand in hand. Modern warfare and modern weapons mean that over 90% of casualties are innocent civilians. The increasing use by the US and its allies of unmanned drones is now a major cause of civilian deaths. For instance: “Of the 44 Predator strikes carried out by the American drones in the tribal areas of Pakistan in 12 months of 2009, only five were able to hit their actual targets, killing five key Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, but at the cost of around 700 innocent civilian lives.”
44 US drone hits in Pakistan killed 700 civilians in 2009, The Peninsula, 2/1/10
Modern weapons are toxic and kill in particularly nasty ways.
Cluster munitions and submunitions – although finally there is a treaty banning them (it comes into force this August), they are still being used. Each bomb, ground or air launched opens to release up to 200 ‘bomblets’ or submunitions. They cannot be accurately targeted. They are supposed to explode when they hit the ground but there is a high failure rate.
The required 30 ratifications of the Cluster Munitions Convention were achieved on 16 February 2010, and the date of 1 August 2010 has been set for the entry into force of the Convention. See www.stopclusterbombs.org.nz
So, like landmines, they stay lethal for many years, killing and maiming the people who disturb them. They are also made to look attractive to children.
1999 Yugoslavia (including Serbia, Montenegro,and Kosovo)
The US, UK, and Netherlands drop 1,765 cluster bombs, containing 295,000 bomblets.
2001- 2002 Afghanistan
The US drops 1,228 cluster bombs containing 248,056 bomblets.
2003 Invasion of Iraq
The US and UK use nearly 13,000 cluster munitions containing an estimated 1.8 to 2 million submunitions in the three weeks of major combat.
Israeli forces use surface-launched and air-dropped cluster munitions against Hezbollah. The UN estimates that Israel used up to 4 million submunitions.
Israel’s deadly legacy still lurks in Lebanon, Natacha Yazbeck.
Depleted uranium is used to harden the metal casing of shells, making them better for piercing armoured vehicles and walls. The arms manufacturers get it free from nuclear power stations (one way of dealing with some of the nuclear waste). The fine DU particles that result from the explosion cause cancers and organ failure, particularly kidney failure. Many of the soldiers and civilians who took part in the first Gulf War died because of it. DU was a major part of the ‘Gulf War Syndrome’, although the MoD still deny this. But worse still is the genetic damage done to the children born to military personnel returning from areas where DU has been used.
I first met a parent of one of these children in the mid 1990s. He was setting up a charity for families like his. So many of them were having to cope with deformed and disabled children as a result of fighting in the Gulf, and receiving little or no support from the MoD. Nor was it ever made public in the media that there was a problem. In the States other parents were forced to keep their mouths shut and stay in the military, this being the only way they could access health care for their ruined children.
DU has been used by the UK and the US in the Balkans, in two Gulf wars, Afghanistan, and by Israel in Lebanon and Gaza. All these places have recorded a rise in cancers and genetic defects. After Operation Cast Lead (Gaza December 2008 –January 2009) births of deformed babies were being recorded within 6 months of the attack on Gaza. And Israeli sperm count is dropping because of DU.
Depleted Uranium Radiation resulting from NATO Bombings in Serbia : High Incidence of Cancer, Ljubica Vujadinovic.
For reports of DU and other weapons used in Gaza, here is a selection:
Israel‘s Declining Sperm Quality Tied to Depleted Uranium Exposure, Salem-News.com, 14/04/10
Israel Uses Depleted Uranium against Palestinians in Gaza
look at www.goldstone-report.org – look under Facts/Israeli weapons
In March this year, John Simpson (BBC) said that doctors in Fallujah (Iraq) were reporting a rise in the number of birth defects (about 1000 a year), which they blamed on the weapons used by the US during the 2004 attack on the city. Simpson said that ‘Fallujah’s a difficult place to get to…. difficult to send international teams of doctors in to investigate’. Yet in 2004-5 an American independent journalist Dahr Jamail went to Fallujah and reported what was happening.
His reports are worth following: www.dahrjamailiraq.com
Also in 2004, from southern Iraq, we were getting reports that young women were committing suicide rather than give birth; they were so frightened of what the child may be like. But birth defects had already been reported from this area after the first Gulf war. We simply do not like to admit to the damage we do when we wage war, either to the occupants of the country we are trashing, or our own armed forces.
Also recorded as being used in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead:
White phosphorus – an incendiary shell, a form of napalm. Napalm was used in Vietnam, and when people whose clothes and skin were burning discovered that they could quench the flames by diving into water, the Americans added white phosphorus. It sticks to the skin, and goes on burning so long as it has access to oxygen, so it burns under water.
Technically, it should be used as a flare to light up the positions of enemy forces. It should never be used to attack the forces themselves and never on civilian areas. WP was used in Gaza with terrible effect. I came across one report from a surgeon in the Al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza, where a small girl was brought in with shrapnel wound to her head. It was decided that they should operate to ensure there was no internal bleeding into the brain. When they opened up the wound, smoke started to pour out of the exposed brain. White phosphorus is also being blamed for birth defects, both in Gaza and Fallujah.
Flechettes – terrorists use nail bombs, we use flechettes. These are shells filled with hundreds of small metal darts, supposedly for use in thick jungle conditions where they can penetrate the undergrowth, but of course they were used in Gaza, and there are many photos of children wounded by them. There are also disc flechettes, which slice rather than pierce.
Thermobaric weapons –particular version of the Hellfire missile (H-11N), fired by Apache helicopters. Fired into an enclosed space (e.g. targeting a cave complex or a room in a building), the explosion causes an intense pressure wave, which collapses the lungs, shreds internal organs and by throwing the body around, smashes the bones, all without breaking the skin. I have photos of the result of a possible thermobaric attack where the bodies look like rag dolls. The main toxic element is fluorised aluminium.
There is a suspicion that Israel was testing some experimental US weapons and this is one:
DIME – dense inert metal explosive. Very little is known about this weapon, as it leaves little physical trace. The shell contains tiny very heavy pellets which vapourise when they hit a soft surface, such as flesh. (There are very conflicting reports about this on the internet. I have spoken to someone who was in Gaza and he brought back this report that the pellets stay as pellets when they hit a hard surface._ Curiously if they hit a wall they stay as tiny pellets, difficult to find if you are looking for evidence. The explosive wave, according to some people, goes horizontally, cutting through any soft tissue – it can literally cut off your legs, your head, or your body in two, depending how tall you are. A lot of the pictures painted by Gazan children after this offensive showed bodies lying in half in the street.
All of these weapons are, by their very nature, illegal. War is no longer fought, army facing army, on a battlefield, dreadful as that was. It is fought against ‘terrorists’, all living in their towns and villages, among their families. To use a weapon that causes the kind of damage among civilian populations as these do is to commit a war crime and a crime against humanity, as defined by the International Criminal Court. This is also now part of our domestic law (see www.abolishwar.org.uk under LAW).
With the exception of flechettes (and one doesn’t know what chemicals are used in the explosive shell that carries them), all these weapons leave their effects on the environment, even cluster munitions. For if children can be maimed by cluster munitions, so can farm animals and wildlife. But the rest all make use of toxic chemicals and substances that get into the air, the soil, the plant life and all that depends on it.
There is a report recording the toxins in the Gazan soil after last year’s attack And we are just getting detailed reports of the environmental damage caused by the US in Afghanistan.
Metals detected in Palestinian children’s hair suggest environmental contamination http://www.newweapons.org/?q=node/112
Gaza Strip, soil has been contaminated due to bombings: population in danger http://www.newweapons.org/?q=node/110).
EXCLUSIVE REPORT: American military creating an environmental disaster in Afghan countryside (Part 1 of 3) KabulPress
EXCLUSIVE REPORT: American Military Burn Pits Pollute Afghan Countryside (Part 2 of 3) 03/05/10) Kabul Press
EXCLUSIVE REPORT: American Military Burn Pits Pose Risk to Future Generations of Afghans (Part 3 of 3), Matthew Nasuti, Kabul Press
But I want you to think about this – if DU, which has a half life of 4½ billion years, can cause birth defects among humans, what do you think it does to the animals, the birds and fishes, and most particularly the insects and the plants? After the first Gulf war there were reports of deformed animals in southern Iraq. People wouldn’t buy the vegetables and fruit because there was something ‘wrong’ with them. There was no date harvest in southern Iraq for 6 years after the first Gulf war, and the UN said that 50% of date farms that were up to 150 years old had died. A friend, who often visited Iraq during this period told me ‘the soil was dead’. If, after the invasion in 2003, there was an increase in human birth defects and cancers, what else has gone unreported? And this is just one of the toxic substances we fight wars with. What are we doing to the earth?
Now you know why I personally campaign to abolish war, let’s turn away from this litany of death and look at the rest of life. I think it is really only by seeing how important the whole of life is, by seeing how we are not separate but an intrinsic part of it, it is only by seeing those links that will enable us to start breaking the links with violence, war and destruction.
This world is much more than human, and humanity is only one form of life.
From where I stand, I would say that humanity stands out from the rest of life for its pride, its self-importance, its unthinking greed in its use of the earth’s resources, and its belief in its superiority. We tell ourselves that we are superior because we can reason, use tools, are altruistic, recognize and think beyond death.
Let’s take that last one: we recognize and mourn death, contemplate it, think beyond it. For a start, unless we can talk and think in dog, or horse, or goat, how can we ever know what animals are contemplating when they are standing there, eyes fixed on the far-away hills? Must they react only in human ways before we grant them their thoughts?
And if other animals don’t recognize death, why do they run away from it, why do they fight to survive? Some ill or wounded animals appear to accept the inevitability of death, to give up and die, regardless of the help you try to give them. Others will take every bit of help you can give in their fight to survive. Is that so very different to how humans react? In the West, with our access to amazing medical advances we now believe that everything can be cured. But without that modern belief we do as other animals do – decide to die or fight to survive.
Yes, animals who lose their young can walk away from the bodies without, it seems, a backward glance. But an animal that lives in a secure, safe place, your home for instance, will mourn the loss of her kits or pups. She can afford to. A mother in the wild is a pragmatist, she has to be. Life must go on and she must survive and try to rear young next season, next year. It is a waste of valuable energy and compromises her own safety if she lets her mourning get in the way. But anyone who has spent time around animals and watched their relationships with each other knows, because they have witnessed it, how animals can mourn. I once had a budgie who didn’t mourn when his companion budgie died, but went into a decline and died when our dog was put to sleep. Elephants mourning their dead is well documented, even to the extent of returning to the bones months later and gently touching/playing with them.
Elephants are also known for their altruism. They will care for orphaned young, and so will other species. Ah, but human altruism crosses the barrier between species, something no other animals do. Wrong.
Lesley illustrated this point with stories of her family’s terriers caring for a sick rat and for wild rabbits.
For a long time scientists refused to see that other species used tools. The human opposing thumb was what made us special. I can remember the underlying anger as well as disbelief I heard in the reactions of scientists and, it has to be said, many religious people when wild chimps were first filmed using tools. Of course captive chimps had been seen doing that all the time, but that was because ‘humans had taught them to’. But chimps have hands like us – it was their mental ability science and religion was having difficulty with.
And then birds were filmed doing exactly what the chimps were doing – selecting and using sticks to extract ant and termite eggs from holes. Sea otters use stones to crack open shellfish. Hands help when it comes to tools, but what films of other species using tools show us is not really their ability to manipulate an object – every bird building a nest can do that. It shows us, if we are willing to be humble enough to see, that all life has the ability to reason.
Lesley illustrated her point by reference to the ability of her cat to work out how to open a difficult door,
the Japanese ‘crow’ cracking nuts, a heron using bait to fish and the evasive behaviour of a bluebottle fly.
Humanity’s problem is that it reasons because it can, and that creates more problems. I sometimes think we create problems just so we can prove how clever we are when we solve them. Life only bothers to reason when it has a problem to solve, when it finds itself in circumstances that need to be dealt with in order to go on living. I’ve been talking about forms of life that can move themselves to a place with more favourable circumstances, but what does life do if it cannot move from where it finds itself?
Lesley had noticed that a tree growing on a bank had developed several intricate growing techniques to counter its difficult terrain.
Other forms of life don’t just feel pain like we do although, in an attempt to justify what we do to the rest of life, it is often said they don’t feel pain as intensely as we do, so as Robert Fisk would say – ‘that’s alright then’. (There are many recorded instances of plants not only reacting to pain, but reacting to other plants being hurt.) Other forms of life don’t just have ‘primitive’ thoughts and emotions. Other forms of life can reason and either manipulate their surrounding or themselves in order to survive.
Life has a mind. What must it think of us?
For those interested in International Law:
On the website of the Edwin Ginn Library, based in the Fletcher School, Tufts University, you will find the Multilaterals Project, (http://www.fletcher.tufts.edu/) . This is an “ongoing project to make available the texts of international multilateral conventions and other instruments”. Although the project was initiated to improve public access to environmental agreements, the collection today also includes treaties in the fields of human rights, commerce and trade, laws of war and arms control, and other areas”.
This mysterious fungus (used in military research) is affecting animals:
Mystery Disease Linked to Missing Israeli Scientist, 07/05/10, H P Alberelli, Truthout